Monday, January 28, 2008

Marie's Top Reads of 2007

I just realized that I hadn't yet posted my 2007 top reads...so here they are! My resolution for 2008 is to read more of the books I own and use the library less...to reduce the amount of books that are cluttering up my study! We'll see how successful I am.

I keep more complete reading lists on my amazon.com listmania...but these are the ones I would recommend.

Fiction

1. Beneath a Marble Sky, J. Shors. Wonderful historical fiction about the building of the Taj Mahal.

2. A Thousand Splendid Suns, K. Husseini. Magnificent, heartbreaking story of women’s friendship.

3. Woman of the Silk, G. Tsukiyama. After hearing Tsukiyama speak this summer, I went back to the beginning. Great novel of women’s friendship during the silk trade in China.

4. Water: A Novel, B. Sidwha. Tragic, heartwarming story about Indian widow, on which the movie, “Water,” is based.

5. My Sister’s Keeper, J. Picoult. Another novel of Picoult’s that makes me look at things differently and from all sides.

6. Eye Contact, C. McGovern. Excellent murder mystery about an autistic boy who was present at the murder of a classmate.

7. The Girls, L. Lansen. Memorable, bittersweet story of a set of conjoined twins…a wonderful depiction of sisterhood.

8. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, JK Rowling. Excellent ending to a great rollicking tale!

9. Girl in a Box, S. Massey. Many of you know of my fondness for Massey’s novels. Another great one!

10. The Last King of Scotland, G. Foden. Disturbing story based on the life of a man who was Idi Amin’s physician.

11. As Hot as It Was You Ought to Thank Me, N. Kinkaid. Southern coming-of-age novel.

12. Everything Is Illuminated, J.S. Foer. Story of friendship between an American Jew searching and a Ukrainian man.

13. The Damascened Blade, B. Cleverly. Another in the series about murders taking place during the time of the Raj.

14. The Bondswoman’s Narrative , H. Crafts. The first novel written by a woman who used to be a slave, recently discovered.

15. The Dirty Girl’s Social Club , A. Valdes-Rodriguez. Interspersing stories of Latina women’s friendships in Boston.

16. The Tenth Circle, J. Picoult. Another thought-provoking, disturbing story from Picoult, this one about date rape.

17. Backpack, E. Barr. Shallow druggie travels the world and finds herself. Interesting “traveling” SE Asia background.

18. Final Jeopardy and Likely to Die, L. Fairstein. If you like “Law and Order: SVU,” you’ll like these mysteries.

19. Fabulous Nobodies, L. Tulloch. “Sex in the City” pre-Carrie Bradshaw. Shallow, hip, and fashionable. Not a typical read for me!

20. The Ivy Chronicles, K. Quinn. The Nanny Diaries for parents getting their kids into private school!

Nonfiction
1. Waiting for Daisy: A Tale of Two Continents, Two Religions, Five Infertility Doctors, an Oscar, An Atomic Bomb, a Romantic Night, and One Woman’s Quest to Become a Mother, P. Orenstein. The title says it all.

2. Shooting Water: A Memoir of Second Chances, Family, and Filmmaking, D. Saltzman. Daughter of director Deepa Mehta writes about her relationship with her mother and the troubled film making of “Water.”

3. Traveling While Married, M. Weisman. Enjoyable, light travel essays about traveling while married.

4. Blindsided: Living a Life above Illness: A Reluctant Memoir, R. Cohen. Story of living with multiple sclerosis.

5. Our Babies, Ourselves: How Biology and Culture Shape the Way We Parent, M. Small. Fascinating look at parenting in a variety of cultures.

6. The Grizzly Maze: Timothy Treadwell’s Fatal Obsession with Alaskan Bears, N. Jans. If you were intrigued by “Grizzly Man,” read the book!

7. Are We There Yet?, S. Haas. NPR commentator writes about traveling with children—he’s a snob, but a good writer.

8. Copy This!: Lessons from a Hyperactive Dyslexic who Turned a Bright Idea into One of America’s Best Companies, P. Orfalea. Memoir of man who started Kinko’s.

9. Bait and Switch: The Futile Search of the American Dream, B. Ehrenreich. Gave me sympathy for job seekers.

10. The Gospel of Food: Everything You Think You Know About Food Is Wrong, B. Glassner. Thought-provoking treatise about food and the restaurant industry.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Indecisive and Ambivalent in Oregon

Until recently, I was a firm Hillary supporter. I still support her candidacy fully, and I am horrified to observe the sexist reactions to her in the media and in popular culture. The TV show "Commander in Chief" with Geena Davis often brought me to tears to imagine a strong, intelligent woman leading our nation, and to think of how we would be such a different country if that were so. I also think about all the young women out there who would be inspired to go into politics, in the same way that our Lutheran female pastor has inspired young women in our Catholic-Lutheran community to think about their futures as unlimited.

Recently, the negative politics have been getting me down. My mom tells me that she read some assessment that said that this is good practice for the Democrats, because the vitriol the Republicans are going to level at the Democratic candidate will be far worse.

I read Hillary Clinton's autobiography and was inspired to read about all she did to help women and children. I would be proud to call her my president. I did not agree with her votes on the war, but I believe she would do more to help women and children than any other candidate.

But I've gone back to the question of whether she can really be elected? I find the Hillary hatred and sexist scorn on the internet and around the water coolers to be truly depressing. I would imagine that she's alienating more African-American voters by the day with her attacks on Obama. And I can't help but wonder how I would feel if I were African-American, to hear that Maya Angelou coined Bill Clinton as the "first Black president." Yes, he seemed to resonate with the disadvantaged in our society, but how can we ever escape the fact that he is a privileged white man...he knows nothing about what it is like to be African-American or a woman.

I follow a blog called "How Dare She," which overwhelmingly supports Hillary Clinton on the basis of her experience and intelligence. I just finished a historical assessment of the story of Jezebel written by an eminent historian who was a visiting professor at my university. Essentially, Jezebel was framed. Her story was written 300 years after she died, and it was written by her enemies. Elijah, her nemesis, comes out of it as the hero, and Jezebel is cast into the role of a "harlot." I can't help but think of Jezebel when I see what is happening to Hillary Clinton. She is not being judged on the basis of her qualifications--she is being condemned on the basis of her gender, her ambitiousness, and her intelligence. (Even the New York Times, in its recent endorsement of her candidacy, called her "brilliant if at times harsh sounding"--was that really necessary?) Sadly, too many Americans are in the dark ages and not only would not vote for a woman, but could actively campaign and rally against her because of what she stands for. Some will say that people are tired of the Clinton political machine, but I say bullshit. Most of the anti-Hillary mania (especially from the right-wingers) is because she is a strong woman, pure and simple.

Clearly, Clinton is the most experienced candidate of the three major contenders. However, will she be the unifying force this country needs? I haven't seen much to inspire me to believe in that in recent weeks. Will she inspire our young people to get out and vote and to get politically engaged? I'm afraid Barack Obama has her cornered there.

Caroline Kennedy has endorsed Barack Obama because she says she has never been inspired by an American president in her lifetime, and she thinks that Obama could inspire Americans to get involved and engaged like her father did. I can't argue with that. Just think of how many young African-American kids would get charged up by seeing someone with a similar color of skin in the Oval Office...or on the other hand, how young girls would really feel that they might have a chance to become president someday.

I am thrilled at the fact that we are able to choose between the first potential woman president or the first potential African-American president. However, I'm also distressed...because I don't honestly know who to vote for. All I know is that a Democrat damn well better be elected in November, and that is the most important thing in my mind. I hate to cast my vote based on who has the best chance to win, but that's reality.

I took this online political campaign quiz, Match-o-Matic, which was a bit frustrating (especially the last stupid question, when it asks which type of political experience is best for a candidate), but it told me that my first choice should be Christopher Dodd! (#2 for me was Hillary.) Hey wait! I just took it again, and it says that my #1 choice should be Joe Biden, #2 is Mike Gravel (who the heck is he?), and #3 is Sam Brownback!!! Something is seriously wrong with that web site!!! (Although it doesn't ask about abortion...but I can hardly imagine that Brownback supports gay marriage!) I just looked up Mike Gravel--he bills himself as the reproduction rights candidate...so the web site must be playing with my brain to list Sam Brownbag. Must be a virus installed by right-wing Republican computer hacks!! Will have to retest tomorrow to see what comes up next!!

Anyway, back to Hillary vs. Barack...(isn't it interesting how all the men are usually called by their last names, although I realize Hillary is billing herself as such)...it is hard to imagine voting against the first serious female candidate or the first serious African-American candidate. (By serious, I mean ones who actually have a fighting chance at winning the primary.) Hence my ambivalent relief that Oregon's primary doesn't occur until May, when the candidacy is often already decided...what a cop-out I am.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

I H-A-T-E Going to the Dentist!

This morning I had my semi-annual visit to the dentist's office, and before I left I just had to express to Mike how much I H-A-T-E going to the dentist (spelled out because I said it in Kieran's presence and we try to discourage that word!). It's really no fault of his...my dentist happens to be an elderly Japanese man (who according to family lore and who knows whether it is true, was trained as a Kamikaze pilot!), and he is the most sweet, careful dentist you could find. My usual hygienist is a very nice Japanese woman named Atsuko.


I've been seeing the same dentist since I was a teenager, with a break of several years when I was in Japan and then moved back to the U.S., when I tried out a dentist downtown because he was nearer. But I returned to Dr. Ishi in 1992 and haven't left since. On the rare occasions when I've had to have dental work done, he is so gentle with the shots and so concerned about my discomfort that he constantly asks "Are you okay?!" while my mouth is wide open and it is impossible to speak. We are also lucky because we happened to buy a house around the corner from his office, so we can all walk to the dentist (the kids go to a great pediatric dentist in the same building).


I have been blessed with very good teeth. I didn't get a cavity until I was 15 (those dratted braces!), and I've had few cavities or tooth problems since. I do, however, have some gum recession and sensitivity, and I have to admit that I'm not a very faithful flosser; otherwise my teeth and gums would probably be perfect! My hygienist even said to me today that I could probably get away with not getting x-rays done today (it's been a year) because I haven't had a cavity for so long. The way she said it, I felt like I was being really sneaky by skipping it!!


So why do I hate going to the dentist? I think it's mostly that annoying scratching sensation as the hygienist scrapes my teeth. And sitting with my mouth open for 1/2 hour while she cleans my teeth. Or maybe it's the memories of all the years of my life spent in dental chairs and doctor's offices with my mouth wide open.


My mom had German measles when she was pregnant with me, and I was very lucky to escape relatively unscathed with a club foot, cleft lip, and cleft palate. I had countless surgeries throughout my childhood to fix my birth defects, and I wore an awful speech appliance (called an obturator, see photo below) until I was 15. Apparently my poor mom had regular power struggles with me to get me to wear it (as a small child) and later on, as an older child, to get me to take it out at night. It filled the hole at the back of my soft palate so I could speak clearly. Throughout my childhood I had all sorts of people peering into and working on my mouth. I was even on television once as a child, because I was a medical case study!



At the age of 15, I had a surgery called a Pharyngeal flap, which corrected my palate enough so that I didn't have to wear the obturator any more. That was my last cleft palate surgery. However, in the meantime, I also had to have 10 teeth pulled via oral surgery, and I had jaw and chin implant surgery twice as a high school and college student (the first time it was not entirely successful, requiring a second surgery). Throughout my teen years, I had EXTENSIVE orthodontic work because of my cleft palate and extremely crooked teeth. As the daughter of a public school social worker (and a graduate student), I qualified to get free orthodontic work at the Oregon Health Sciences University, which was a boon to my parents. (I say that because I now know how much orthodontia costs!!) However, it was a pain in the neck (or mouth) for me, because I had student orthodontists, who definitely took their time and were not the most gentle practitioners. After they were finally done, their professors would come over and peer in my mouth to approve their work. Ugh! Boy was I glad to get those braces off after 6 or 7 years of orthodontic work.

It's a wonder I do not have a fear of doctors, hospitals, and surgery, but I seem to be fairly blase' about all that and am pretty trusting of my very carefully chosen doctors. In fact, I'm much more relaxed having surgery done on myself than I am when it's being done on one of my loved ones.

However, after all those years of dental and orthodontic work, plastic surgeons, and oral surgery, I consider it my right to complain about going to the dentist every 6 months. So there. :)

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Christmas in England, Part 5 and Conclusion--Pheasants, Garden Walks, and Pantomimes

Pheasant on New Year's Eve

We returned from the Cotswolds on New Year's Eve, just in time for our brother- and sister-in-law's grand New Year's Eve feast. Dave had procured perfect pheasant from the butcher and had made another splendid, elaborate meal. We'd never had pheasant before--it was very tasty--but we were amused when he told us to watch out for buckshot!


Dave serenading us before dinner


Mike, Olga, Kath, and Dave before dinner


Kath after opening her Christmas cracker

We ate very late, and after dinner it was soon time to watch the New Year's Eve countdown on television. I have to say that the British New Year's TV countdown is much more entertaining than the New Year's Rockin' Eve celebration in New York. Paul McCartney and Kylie Minogue (still a huge sensation in the UK) did a duet, and it was a regular dance party all night long.

At midnight we were poised with champagne in one hand, and a bunch of grapes in another hand. Apparently it is a Spanish tradition to eat a grape with every chime of the clock...and Mike's family adopted the tradition when they were living in Panama. Dave was very concerned that the grapes would spoil the taste of the champagne...so I ended up eating my grapes before the clock struck 12 and sipping my champagne instead!

Other traditions in Mike's family are to wear a new item of clothing on New Year's Day, and on Epiphany, the "Kings" leave a small gift for each person in his or shoes, if you leave them under the Christmas tree.

We have developed two New Year's family traditions of our own, which we did not follow this year...we eat fondue on New Year's Eve, and we have everyone in our home (guests included) write down things that they are thankful for in the previous year, and wishes for the coming year...and we deposit them in a little velvet bag. Part of the fun is to look back on the previous blessings and wishes each year.

A National Trust Walk

On New Year's Day, we took an outing to Anglesey Abbey, a National Trust property, where we had lunch and took a long walk through the gardens and grounds, which I imagine are gorgeous in the spring and summer. Here are some photos of the walk--I apologize for the poor quality, but the day was very overcast, and my video camera seems to do best in sunlight.


My little elf (who refuses to wear coats)!


The whole family


With Kath and Victoria


Mark, Victoria, and Dave

An English Pantomime

On the day after New Year's Day, Olga treated us to an English Pantomime of "Cinderella." Last year, a local Portland theater company put on a Pantomime version of "The Princess and the Pea," and it was great fun. When I first met Mike, I thought that Pantomime was some version of a mime. How wrong that is!

Here is an explanation of a Pantomime...it's very broad, raucous comedy, with men playing women and women playing men, one-dimensional characters, slapstick and physical comedy, silly music and jokes, and hilarious villains.

The audience was positively packed with children and families, and the woman sitting next to me kept elbowing me (how pleasant!). The worst thing, though, were the strobe lights. Practically every child, it seemed, had been bought a flashing strobe light toy wand or sword, which they all waved around wildly when the house lights went down. The little girl sitting on her (elbowy) mother's lap right next to me constantly waved her flashing wand in my face. It was all I could do not to grab it and break it in two, and it truly gave me a headache beyond being merely distracting. Finally, I put my program up right next to my face so I wouldn't see it any more.

Our children LOVED the panto...Mike laughed uproariously (as he is wont to do at broad comedy), and I chuckled, when I was not shocked by the double entrendres and frankly much more sexually implied comedy than ever would be acceptable in the U.S. It really makes me think that Americans are uptight about sex, perhaps myself included, given my reaction! At one point, a main character who is a man physically gropes the chest of a man dressed as a woman. Yes, it was funny, but to be honest, it's not really what I want my 11-year-old and especially my 4-year-old to see. I think it went over their heads, though.

Here's a photo of the four stars: Cinderella; her best pal, Buttons; and the ugly stepsisters (and stars of the show), Dolce and Gabbana (played by the male director and choreographer of the show). In true panto tradition, Dolce and Gabbana were hilariously awful and were constantly booed by the audience. Cinderella was one-dimensionally sweet (although not terribly bright), and I found the Prince Charming and her/his sidekick Dandini (played by two women) to be really quite annoying! It would have been easier if they had actually looked like men instead of slender feminine women wearing short little skirts, heels, and ponytails! The whole thing was a little weird.

The whole thing reminded me a bit of the Takarazuka Revue, a totally over-the-top and little-known Japanese cultural phenomenon, where young Japanese women are trained to play male and female roles and sing, dance, and act in these major stage shows.

Visiting with Friends near Saffron Walden

As I said in another travelblog, sadly we were not able to catch up with very many British friends or family members during our recent visit. Fortunately, one of Mike's friends from Oxford, Vicky, settled near a village fairly close to Cambridge. We spent a fun evening catching up with them toward the end of our stay. Nigel commutes daily to his job in London, and he told me that it actually takes him only a bit longer to get to the office than it did when they were living in a suburb of London. He hops on the train and it drops him off near his office, whereas before he had to take a circuitous route of train, tube, etc.

Vicky and Nigel have three children: Jacob (14), Joshua (11), and Isobel (8). Jacob loves the United States and was asking all sorts of detailed questions about speed limits on American freeways, among other things. The boys are very sporty, and Isobel, who has Down's Syndrome, is a very sweet soul who loves her toys, books, and dress-up clothes. Chris hit it off with the boys immediately because they all played the X-Box together. It was wonderful to spend time with another very warm, relaxed family.


The kids (minus Nicholas)


Chris' photo of the rest of us
Last Day in the UK
On our last day in the UK, I requested a trip into town for one final shopping expedition, and a walk through a college. We went to Kings College and discovered that the chapel was closed, but at least we were able to walk through the grounds. We also had lunch in a wonderful little church in town.


Posing in front of Kings' chapel


Another pose (Chris took this one)

On our last evening, I had requested fish and chips...and Kath and Dave suggested an excellent chip shop in a nearby town. Our takeaway fish and chips were excellent. It's getting easier to find decent fish and chips in the U.S., but it's very tough to match the quality in the UK. And no, they do not serve them on newspapers any more because of concerns about hygiene.

The Trip Home

Our flight out of Heathrow was due to depart at 10 a.m., so we left Cambridge at 5:45 a.m. to arrive there in plenty of time. British Airways again proved to be complicated on the return flight, because they could not issue our seats ahead of time...I'm not sure whether that was because they were frequent flyer tickets or because of our separate booking for Nicholas.

I was most worried about the flight home, because (1) the flying time was longer because of the jet stream and the trip to LA, (2) it was all to take place during the daytime rather than at night, and (3) we had a long layover scheduled in LA. In the end, the children did phenomenally well--we couldn't have asked for better behavior. It is definitely the last international trip I will take with a toddler on my lap, though! It will certainly be more expensive to buy him a ticket, but probably will be slightly more relaxing for me.

We were all extremely happy to arrive home, at the equivalent of 4 a.m. or so British time! It took us a little over a week to recover from the jet lag. And that's the end of my Christmas UK travelogue. Hope you've enjoyed it and learned a little about English traditions!

We Love Tom Chapin!

Grammy Award-winning Tom Chapin has long been one of our favorite family musicians. I can't remember how I discovered him, but I have always treasured his clever, funny, and touching lyrics...so much more memorable and creative than many children's musicians. He started recording children's music way back in '88, when Raffi was the major children's singer. Now the choices are far greater, but Chapin is still recording hilarious, and sometimes poignant, environmentally focused and progressive music. He also records music for adults, but we've listened to more of his family music. He's the brother of activist singer Harry Chapin of "Cat's in the Cradle" fame.



Chapin rarely travels to the West Coast (I know, because I regularly check his web site for tour dates), so when I saw that he was coming to Portland, I knew we had to go! He did a concert as a benefit for the Portland Cooperative School, and it was held at a church near our home.

The concert was wonderful, energetic, and very accessible for all ages. He performs and records with two other talented musicians, Michael Mark and John Cobert. I wish we had known that the concert included a reception afterward, because I would have brought my camera. Chris was THRILLED to be able to get all their autographs and talk to them in person. We bought a new CD (now autographed) and some wrist bracelets that say "Walk the World" (the title of one of his new songs). We were delighted to discover that he recorded "Walk the World" with our other favorite children's musician, Dan Zanes (who, incidentally, is also fantastic in concert)!


These are the lyrics of some of our favorite Tom Chapin songs:

Family Tree
Great Big Words
This Pretty Planet

And our all-time family favorite, perfect for those six boy cousins:
Cousins

If you have never listened to Tom Chapin and you love the earth, I highly recommend his music!!

Here's one final favorite, which I haven't been able to find on the web, but I included in a homemade songbook I made for Chris when he was 4 years old:

Homemade Lemonade

Shirley and Sue needed money for stuff/So they sat on the swings and they planned.
“When we pool our allowance it’s never enough.”
“Let’s open a lemonade, open a lemonade stand.”

They borrowed a table with one shaky leg
And lemons and sugar and water.
They turned on the hose and they mixed up a keg
And the price was a buck and a quarter.
They sang, “Homemade lemonade. Not from concentrate.
Fresh squeezed, straight from trees.
It’s really, really great.”

Tatiana Smolensk on her way from ballet
Was all plied out in her tutu.
She leapt to the stand, did a pas de bouree,
“Tatiana needs beverage from you two.
But I have no pocket, unfortunately.”
“That’s okay, you can have it for free!” (chorus)

A manhole flew open and out flew a man
In a wet suit, “I’ve come from Aruba.
I’m dry as a bone, can you help me?” “We can!”
And they poured it right into his scuba.
“But I have no pockets, unfortunately.”
“That’s okay, you can have it for free!” (chorus)

The basketball champions pulled up in a bus,
“The last shot was ours and we sank it!”
“They ordered up gallons and cheered,
“Yay for us!”
And they dribbled a lot as they drank it.
“But we have no pockets, unfortunately.”
“That’s okay, you can have it for free!” (chorus)

Along came a prince from his desert doman,
The size of Fort Knox, only richer.
“For a cup of your juice I’d give half my terrain.
I’d part with it all for a pitcher.
And I have deep pockets, as deep as the sea.”
“That’s okay, but unfortunately…”

No more lemonade.” “That is okay, I’ll wait.”
So they made more lemonade.
“Thank you, this is great!”

Now Shirley and Sue in their desert domain
Are the world’s biggest lemon importer.
They’re rich and they’re famous,
They’ve opened a chain
And the price is a buck and a quarter.

So if you open a lemonade stand,
Get out to the curb bright and early.
You might make lots of friends
And a few hundred grand
Just like our old friends Sue and Shirley.

Homemade lemonade. Not from concentrate.
Fresh squeezed, straight from trees.
It’s really, really, really, really, really, really
Homemade lemonade. Not from concentrate.
Fresh squeezed, straight from trees.
It’s really, really, really, really, really, really GREAT!
--John Forster, Michael Mark, and Tom Chapin

Monday, January 21, 2008

Christmas in England, Part 4--My Door Fetish on Film in the Cotswolds

I've always had a love affair with English doors. On our walk through the town of Broadway in the Cotswolds, I photographed many of the beautiful doors and some of the classic Cotswolds architecture.

Unfortunately, these were taken with our video camera because our digital camera battery had died and I neglected to bring along the recharger. The quality is not quite as good as it would have been with the digital camera, but the light also wasn't as good, being winter.

When we visit the UK, one of my very favorite things to do is just to wander and soak up the architecture and setting...whether it be London, Cambridge, Yorkshire, Bath, Henley, Oxford, or the Cotswolds. I told Mike that if we lived in England, I'd want to live in the Cotswolds because it is so picturesque.

Enjoy the few glimpses I've captured below!
















































Sunday, January 20, 2008

Portland's Going to the Dogs

I must make a confession: I am a dog scrooge.

I realize that as we traverse the Portland Farmer's Market in the spring, summer, and fall, and countless Portlanders bring their dogs to the market, and I do everything I can to avoid them. I would never knowingly buy a house near someone who owned a Pit Bull, a Rottweiler, or any other aggressive breeds. I don't understand why people are drawn to these breeds. I steer my kids away from strange dogs in fear of dog bites.

Before Mike and I were married, we housesat for a month near Multnomah Village for my cousin's widow, Ann, while she and her son went to Hawaii. Ann had a 1/2 Husky, 1/2 wolf dog named Kaya. She was a beautiful dog, and Mike, staying home during the day, really bonded with her. Not me--I could either take or leave her. When she pooped all over the carpets one day, it did nothing to increase my fondness for her!

I have always been more of a cat person than a dog person, perhaps because I didn't really grow up with dogs. Our first family pet was a dog, Sunshine, although she had a very short life before she was hit by a car. After that, we always had cats. Maybe that's why I lack the dog gene--fear of commitment?

My disinterest in dogs is a recently discovered admission of mine. It is not popular to be disinterested in dogs in modern-day Portland. In this month's Portland Monthly, writer David Wolman writes about Portland's dog mania.

Apparently, Portland has 136,332 registered canines that use 31 off-leash areas at dog parks, and more dogs per capita than anywhere else in the country. Dogs can enjoy $60/hour massages, or doggy day cares with the latest toys and on-call nail care technicians. Then there are also gourmet pet bakeries, which prepare birthday cakes decorated with fire hydrants. Furthermore, employment in the pet care industry is 40 percent higher in Multnomah Country than the national average.

I don't have any problem with people being dog lovers, but I just can't relate--probably much in the same way that purposely childless couples cannot understand why anyone would want to have children. I like my sister's family's dog, a Golden Retriever, and I have no antipathy toward dogs. It's just this obsessive affection for them that baffles me.

According to the Portland Monthly article, 42 percent of dog owners let their dogs share their bed, and 55 percent bought their pets holiday gifts. How many dogs really understand the idea of Christmas? :)

For those of you who are dog lovers, please forgive this guilty confession of mine. I feel better getting it off my chest!

Christmas in England--Part 3, Boxing Day and Lowerfield Farm

Post-Christmas

As many of you know, the day after Christmas is called "Boxing Day" in England. Long ago, pre-children, Mike and I celebrated Boxing Day by hosting an annual Boxing Day tea party. Alas, we have not done that since Chris was very young! Someday we will have to revive our tradition.

Boxing Day is a national holiday in the UK, and its origins are from the middle ages, when the upper classes gave presents and food to the "lower" classes. According to wikipedia:

"Apprentices, masters, visitors, customers, and others would put donations of money into the box, like a piggy bank, then, after Christmas, the box would be shattered and all the contents shared among the workers of the shop. Thus, masters and customers could donate bonuses to the workers without anything direct, and the employees could average their wages. The habit of breaking the Christmas box lent its name to Boxing Day. The term "Christmas box" now refers generally to a gift or pay bonus given to workers.

Because the staff had to work on such an important day as Christmas by serving the master of the house and his family, they were given the following day off. As servants were kept away from their own families to work on a traditional religious holiday and were not able to celebrate Christmas dinner, the customary benefit was to "box" up the leftover food from Christmas Day and send it away with the servants and their families."

It is tradition in most families to spend the day with other family members as a sort of 'second' Christmas Day, where presents are exchanged, the left-overs of the previous day are eaten or another family meal is prepared in celebration. Boxing Day in the UK is a day when stores launch one of the year's biggest sales periods. Boxing Day has become so important for retailers that they often extend it into a "Boxing Week."

We celebrated Boxing Day with Dave's (brother-in-law) traditional turkey curry, which was very yummy indeed! On the 27th, we hit the big sales in town. When Mike and I first got married, it was highly unusual for any British shops to have any sales whatsoever. Now I believe the UK sales might surpass the American sales! Nearly every shop in town had loads of merchandise marked 50% off.

I found the British fashions not really to my liking, but I did find a lot of great clothing (and shoes, in a few cases) for Mike and the boys.

On the 27th, Kath and Dave had arranged for a professional photographer to come to the house to take photos of the extended family. Here are a couple of shots taken after the photographer had finished with the formal photos:



Mike and Nicholas


Olga with her grandchildren (minus Nicholas)


Jessie and Nicholas looking out the window

On the 29th, Mike's brother and his family flew back to Australia, and we headed to the Cotswolds. On previous visits to the UK, we have always gone for 3 weeks. This was our first 2-week visit ever, and it was very difficult because being the holidays, we didn't have time to connect with most of our British friends. Our entire visit was spent with family, and we were only able to meet up with two families.

Lowerfield Farm in the Cotswolds

One of the families were our friends from Japan, Sue and Gareth. I met Sue when she got a job at the Tokyo branch of the school I taught at in Osaka. She came to Osaka for some training, and we immediately hit it off. She and Gareth met while they were working in Sudan a few years before Japan. They lived in Japan for a few years, and then returned to England and actually lived in Reading, where Mike's mum used to live. The last time we had seen them was 10 years ago, when we attended their leaving party before they returned to Japan. They have been in Japan for the past 10 years, working for the Japanese school, Nova, which recently went bankrupt and left tons of English teachers stranded in Japan without any salaries.

During the past 10 years, we went on to have two more children, and Sue and Gareth acquired two of their own: they had a daughter, Meredith, and they adopted a boy, Darius, in Japan. Since returning to the UK last year, they have opened up a guesthouse business in the Cotswolds called Lowerfield Farm.

We visited them for 2 nights and had a wonderful time catching up. We also realized that it had been 20 years--to the month--since we had first met, and we toasted those 20 years with champagne one evening. They are incredible hosts and are perfectly suited to the guesthouse business. Mike and I agreed that we two are so NOT suited to the guesthouse business. I think we would find it extremely hard to put up with impolite or disrespectful guests.

The children had a good time playing together, and it was fantastic to catch up with them. They are truly friends with whom it seems like no time has passed at all since we last saw them. I also realized one evening that they are our oldest "couple" friends...a couple that we've known for the amount of time we've been together (and are still together)! And what a kick to suddenly have all these children!

We spent a wonderful few days in their company. If you are planning a trip to England, I highly recommend Lowerfield Farm near Broadway in the Cotswolds and the wonderful hospitality of the Atkinson family.

The Cotswolds feel like the real "Old England." Mike and I spent a few days there years ago, right after his dad died in 1992, but we hadn't been back since. I look forward to spending more time there in the spring or summer, when the gardens are in bloom. As it was, I enjoyed taking photos of the Cotswolds architecture and the wonderful English doors (I love English doors!).

Even though Sue and Gareth were ambivalent after leaving Japan after 10 years, they are really enjoying owning a guesthouse. Sue is a vegetarian, though, and I don't know how she manages to cook all that bacon, sausage, and blood pudding every morning for the full English breakfasts! She said that it has more firmly made her a vegetarian!


The boys up on top of Broadway Tower, a viewpoint from which you are supposed to be able to see 13 counties (but not on a cloudy winter day!)


What the tower looks like in nice weather...



And the cloudy day we were there!


Sue, Gareth, and Nicholas watching the others in the tower (Nicholas took to Sue in the same way that Christopher took to her as a baby, not surprising given her warm, welcoming personality!)


Walking down the streets of Broadway, a well-known, picturesque Cotswolds village


Kieran & Nicholas in front of a posh hotel


Meredith, Chris, and Kieran


The friendly doorman offered to take a photo of our whole group! (From left: Gareth, Sue's mum Mary, Sue, Darius, Meredith, Chris, Mike, Kieran, me, and Nicholas)


Nicholas enjoying the walk


Another group shot of the walk


Sweet Darius in Gareth's hat


The view from our room at the guesthouse


The boys at the kitchen table with Meredith by the Aga in the background


Sue and Gareth in the kitchen


Everyone minus Kieran (who was being anti-social at the time!)

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